No, in most cases debt collectors and creditors cannot garnish federal benefits.
Federal law protects or “exempts” certain funds or benefits from garnishment.
Federally exempt benefits include:
Social Security benefits
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits
Civil service and federal retirement and disability benefits
Service member pay
Military annuities and survivor benefits
Federal Student Aid
Railroad Retirement benefits
Financial assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
However, there are some situations where these funds are not protected and may be garnished. For example, some of these federal benefits may be used to pay delinquent federal taxes or student loans. Others, such as Social Security benefits, may be deducted before you receive them to pay child support or alimony.
How could my bank account get garnished?
If a creditor or a collector obtains a judgment against you, it can ask a state court to issue an order garnishing your bank account. The creditor or collector will send this garnishment order to your bank and it usually requires the bank to hold the money until the court has made a final decision as to whether the money must be paid to the creditor. In some states, you have the right to receive a notice informing you that a judge has issued a garnishment order for the money in your bank account along with information telling you what to do if you think that some or all of the money in your account is exempt from garnishment. Nevertheless, sometimes you may not receive a notice before the judge issues its order and the bank freezes your account.
Even if your account only contains federal benefits that should not be garnished, you should respond to any action seeking a garnishment to make sure your benefits are protected.
The law varies from state to state as to what types of state benefits are subject to and exempt from garnishment.
For more information, you should contact an attorney who practices in your state, your state or local consumer protection agency in your area.
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